Swaziland is Africa’s last remaining true monarchy and in its unique laid-back way is steeped in Swazi culture and tradition. It is a scenic, hilly Kingdom with a friendly age-old way of life that captures the heart of anyone who takes the time to experience it. Swaziland has a rich culture and heritage, as well as some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.
Monarchy in Swaziland
King Sobhuza II was the son of Bhunu and Lomawa Ndwandwe. He was born on the 22nd of July 1899 at Zombodze. Sobhuza believed in peaceful discussion and was against violence. During his rule, he negotiated Swaziland’s independance from Britain. He managed to do that without bloodshed and Swaziland became independent on the 6th of September 1968. Sobhuza also believd in unity. In Swaziland he worked hard to make a non-racial society. He also preached unity among other African leaders. Sobhuza was also a believer in education, both formal and informal. He died on the 21st of August 1982 at the Embo State House, at the age of 83. At the time of his death, he was the longest reigning monarch in the world.
King Mswati III (born Prince Makhosetive Dlamini on 19 April 1968) is the current King (Swazi language: Ngwenyama or Ingwenyama) of Swaziland and head of the Swazi Royal Family. He was crowned King of Swaziland on 25 April 1986 at the age of 18, thus becoming the youngest ruling monarch at the time in the world. Together with his mother Ntfombi Tfwala, now Queen Mother (Ndlovukati), he rules the country as an absolute monarch. Mswati III and currently has 15 wives.
Reed Dance (Umhlanga)
This is Swaziland’s best known cultural event, which happens late August / early September each year. In this eight-day ceremony, young girls cut reeds, present them to the Queen Mother (Indlovukazi) – ostensibly to repair the windbreak around her royal residence – and then dance in celebration. Up to 40,000 girls take part, dressed up in brightly coloured attired – making it one of the biggest and most spectacular cultural events in Africa.
The proper festivities kick off on day six, when dancing gets under way in the afternoon. Each group drops their reeds outside the Queen Mother’s quarters then moves to the main arena, where they dance and sing their songs. The dancing continues on day seven, when the king is present. Each regiment dances before him in turn.
A ceremony that has lasted for hundreds of years, it is one of the last remaining examples of what was previously common practice in many African countries. Often translated as ‘first fruits festival’, the tasting of the first of the season’s bounty is only one part of this long rite. Essentially this is about cleansing and renewal, and – above all – celebrating kingship.
Every Swazi may take part in the public parts of the Incwala. Spectators are permitted and you may not take photographs except by special permit. The best day to attend is Day four of the Big Incwala, when the feasting and dancing reach a climax, and you will see thousands of people – including warriors in full battle regalia – thronging the royal parade grounds. The songs, dances and ritual that take place inside the royal kraal remain a matter of utmost secrecy and may not be recorded or written down.
The event takes place around the last week of December / first week of January. The dates for the event are released relatively close to the time as they derive from ancestral astrology.